Rabbi Itche Meyer Morgenstern: Elul
With the advent of the holy days of Elul, a Jew tends to think, “Who will guarantee that this time I will return to Hashem? Days and months have passed and I have tried so hard to repent. Despite this, I am still very far from truly changing for the better…”
Although one is obligated to find workable strategies to return to his Creator by rectifying his actions every day, each person nevertheless feels that he cannot possibly overcome his evil inclination—which re-gathers force against him every day. How can anyone really stand up to such a challenge? By what stratagem can one finally rid himself of his yetzer hara?
Rebbe Nachman teaches that the first step through the gates of the repentance of Elul is to accept the embarrassment and shame that every Jew experiences in silence. For the main goal of of tesuvah is to reach the level of Kesser as symbolized by the letter alef. This is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and represents the towering level of Atikah Sesima’ah (literally, this is the “Ancient Hidden One” and refers to the level of Chochmah within Atik / Kesser—the higher level of Kesser). In terms of one’s personal spiritual work, this signifies a deep inner repentance that brings to true and lasting change.
There are two elements of teshuvah associated with the letter alef. The first is that one must feel ashamed and embarrassed that he does not yet serve Hashem as is proper and fitting. Failure to successfully navigate spiritual tests is the ultimate humiliation and should cause one intense pain. We petition Hashem during our morning prayers that He not bring us “to the hands of a test or a shaming”—which indicates that if one doesn’t stand strong in a spiritual trial, one suffers severe embarrassment. Feeling the pain of this embarrassment yet bearing it with dignity and patience, with the understanding that such feelings of pain and frustration are from heaven to expose one’s limitations and bring him to humility, is the primary step toward true teshuvah.